This part of my site is dedicated to the everyday common soldier, to the men who sacrificed and gave all to protect their homeland, their way of life, their families, and most of all...as all fighting men do...each other. These men came from every walk of life, Lawyers, Doctors, Teachers, Politicians, Farmers and Clerks. Men who believed in what they were fighting for. Men who needed no prodding to raise arms in order to protect their state, their country, and their Cause. My Great Great Grandfather George R. Smith of the 18th Regiment Georgia Volunteer Infantry, was one such man, a fact that I am immensely proud of. To be related to such a man is to be blessed. To be able to remember him and his fellow soldiers here in these pages, is to be doubly blessed.
The one thing that makes the Civil War soldier different from those of more modern times, was the Civil War soldier went to war because he wanted to. The larger part of the population at that time had little to no understanding as to what they would be asked to do and to endure. The earlier American wars were long forgotten or like the Mexican War, never really reached the masses of the times.
Due to a large desire for adventure, propoganda like recruiting efforts, and the romance of the times, resulted in thousands of young and old Southerners alike, enlisting for service. They found themselves not fearing the fight, but rather that they might not be enlisted in time to take part in the fight. There were those who in the bloody years following, would look back on that fear as a joke.
The typical recruit would report to camp carrying entirely too much baggage, and in the case of the aristocratic southerners, would often arrive with a man servant. They were not eager to obey the orders of those senior to them, but would rather argue the purpose of the order and/or requested the order to be explained, before deciding to accept the order or not. It was not ubheard of for an enlisted man, concerned with the necessity of an order, would challenge their senior officer to a duel.
The few men who had military training were normally of the Southern aristocracy, sons of plantation owners or businessmen who had spent their younger years as junior officers in the "Old Army". These men were now the senior officers of the Confederate Army, as they were experienced in the ways of war. Some, such as General Longstreet, General Jackson, and even General Lee himself had beeen brevetted for bravery during the Mexican War. However, these experienced men were few and far between.
The new soldiers had to be trained, in everything from preparing a camp to firing their weapon. Some of these young men were city born and had no experience either outdoors or with firing a weapon, of any kind. There was much work to be done before this army was ready to fight.
Discipline was another problem which faced this fledgling army. The Officer Corps was mostly an elected group, or they were political appointees. The officers were wanting to be liked by their men and/or thought of them as possible constituents after the war. It was highly unlikely that men would vote for you if you came down on them too hard.
Discipline had to be learned and after months of arguing over who was in charge, the soldiers began to realize that the Officers truly did have the power of life and death. Modern armies drill and drill until reactions to orders are automatic. This was not true of the armies of the Civil War. There was what could be called an "informality" to the way the army was ran. The soldiers never quite got the grasp of military life.
However, the common soldier did expect something from his Officers. He expected courage, The kind of courage that would present itself as leadership during a battle. If an officer could not gather this courage, he was not to last long.
Training was hard. The soldier had to learn the age old fundamentals of properly standing at attention, how to perform the manual of arms with his musket, how to march, and finally how to fight. To fight as a formation, not as a mob.
Men of Valor, by Mort Kuntsler
In order to go from a marching formation to a fighting one, the soldier had to master intricate maneuvers. To master these, there was a necessity for hours and hours of drills. Afterall, they may have to perform these maneuvers in the dark of night, under fire and in the most dire of situations. It had to becom second nature. Because of its importance to the success of the battle, no General officer ever thought there was such a thing as too much drill.
Marching, maneuvering and inspection became common place to the soldier. However, what was astonishinly lacking was target practice, or even the trained firing of their muskets. It was thought the average male was familiar with fire arms. This may have been true to a greater extent in the Confederate army than in the Union army. A greater number of southerners had lived in frontier conditions and were in turn more greatly exposed to fire arms, prior to their enlistment.
There were many units in either army that had never spent any time on a rifle range nor had they fired their weapons in action. In 1863, as the battle og Gettysburg came to a close, it was noted that many of the captured arms had more than one load, sometimes several were stuffed down the barrle. In the heat of battle, excitement had prevailed and soldiers loaded their muskets, forgot to fire and reloaded. Repeating this false firing again and again.
Infantry tactics at the beginning and through much of the war, were based upon the accuracy of the smooth bore musket. Troops were placed enmasse, shoulder to shoulder, and marched to within a hundred yards of the enemy. At any greater distance, little damage could be done. They would fire, than charge, and if quick enough and in enough numbers, could overcome the enemy and win the day.
Upon closing on the enemy, the bayonet was the primary weapon and the use of the musket as a club became common. During the early part of the war, the smooth bore musket was replaced by the rifled musket. This drastically changed the tactics of how the battles were fought.
The rifled musket made an extreme difference on the battlefield. Although it was still a muzzle loader, it gave the infantryman a much increased killing distance and accuracy. Due to the advent of this weapon, the Napoleonic traditional formations became obsolete. However, it took a very long time for the Generals to realize the outcome of their out of date tactics were to be thousands of unnecessary casualties. The soldier was asked to make frontal attacks against entrenched enemy positions. Their efforts were nearly futile if not suicidal.
To wreak even more havoc on the Civil War soldier, developments were being made in the Artillery branch as well. The rifled gun was new to the battlefields of the war. It reached farther and could cause more damage than it smooth bore predecessor. Although it was more powerful and accurate, the smooth bore cannon remained a popular weapon throughout the war.
In the close fighting in the wooded areas which many of the Civil War battles were fought, the smoothbore cannon, firing cannister, was a very effective weapon. Cannister was a round that much like a shot gun, would fire multiple lead slugs into an oncoming file or line of soldiers. This would leave great gaps in the advancing forces. many of the Civil War casualties were due to this one type of ammunition.
The Confederate Cavalry was far superior to the Union cavalry through most of the war. A large number of the Confederate soldiers were born and raised in rural areas. It seemed they were born on horseback, a natural form of transportation between plantations, farms, towns and cities. The common cavalry soldier would very often bring their own mounts when joining the cavalry. Not until 1863 would the Union be able to put a cavalry unit in the field that could out ride, out fight, or out class their Confederate counterpart.
It is difficult to know for sure how many men actually served in the armies of the Civil War. The totals for the Confederate armies is estimated at 1,300,000 men. Of the just over 600,000 soldiers that lost their lives to disease and wounds in the Civil War, nearly 260,000 of these were Confederate.
The science of medicine was drastically poor during these days of war. The chance of receiving good treatment after being wounded or contracting a disease, was very small. Many a soldier died in the hospital tent due to infected wounds or bad treatment of disease. Sterilizing of dressings and the proper cleansing of wounds as well as surgical tools were almost unheard of. Diseases such as pneumonia and dysentery would very of end in the soldiers death, due to poor treatment which was caused from the lack of proper care.
Even though it was becoming apparent that the cleanliness of a camp was directly related to the health of the soldiers in it, sanitation was still only partially practiced. Water supplies were very often tainted and caused many of the intestinal woes of the soldiers.
Foodstuffs were very inadequate on the Confederate side. One of the reasons General Lee campaigned in the north, was to take advantage of the fertile farming areas of Pennsylvania. Clothing suffered as well. It was truly very common for a soldier to fight in tattered clothing and without shoes or boots.
The Civil War soldier suffered and sacrificed greatly for what they believed to be honorable causes. Each man gave his all and endured great hardships. They were typically homesick, lonely, starved and scared. However, they maintained their beliefs and fought a great fight in the name of the "Cause". Even though the cards were stacked against him, the Confederate soldier was committed and ready for whatever came.